A.J. ALLMENDINGER STAVES OFF CHAMP CAR ELIMINATION WITH VICTORY IN CHAMP CAR GRAND PRIX OF ROAD AMERICA
 
 

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (September 24, 2006) – Facing elimination from the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford championship hunt, American Champ Car star A.J. Allmendinger decided that a sunny Sunday in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin was no place to hold a championship celebration.

Needing to finish better than two-time defending Champ Car World Series champion Sebastien Bourdais in today’s Champ Car Grand Prix of Road America, Allmendinger benefited from timely cautions and quick work from his Forsythe Championship Racing crew and not only finished ahead of Bourdais, he topped the entire field to win his fifth race of the season.

Allmendinger overcame a pair of large deficits where he trailed Bourdais by more than 10 seconds, then used a fast fuel stop to get in position for the pass that would give him the lead. Allmendinger passed Bourdais with six laps to go, taking advantage of the fact that the champion was on cold tires after his final pit stop, taking the lead with a pass in Turn Four.

After a 40-minute red flag to clean up after Katherine Legge’s hard impact in Turn 10, Allmendinger then held off Bruno Junqueira and Bourdais to score his fifth win of the year. The result shaved five points from Bourdais’ championship lead and ensured that the title fight would carry to Surfers Paradise in four weeks.

Things happened early and often in today’s 51-lap race, beginning with contact on the opening lap of the race. As has happened on more than a couple occasions this year, it was Junqueira who was the victim as he spun after contact with Will Power. Junqueira’s car was undamaged and he was able to continue – albeit from the back of the field.

Bourdais stormed to the lead when the green flag waved on Lap Four, passing polesitter Dan Clarke and then Charles Zwolsman, who had passed Clarke for the lead on the restart. Once in front, Bourdais checked out on the field, building a 15-second lead even after the first cycle of green-flag pit stops.

That lead was erased on Lap 18 when Power went off course again in Turn One, bringing Allmendinger to Bourdais’ bumper for the restart with Clarke and fellow title hopeful Justin Wilson running fourth and fifth. Wilson and Paul Tracy moved ahead of Clarke on Lap 21, setting the stage for a fierce battle at the front among the three drivers still in contention for the Vanderbilt Cup.

Undaunted, Bourdais romped away again, building a five-second lead after two laps and extending it to 12 seconds after five trips around the 4.048-mile Road America layout. But the lead vanished in a spray of gravel soon after as Champ Car debutant Juan Caceres brought the caution with a trip into the gravel trap on Lap 27. Junqueira led a trio of drivers that decided not to pit, while Wilson and Allmendinger used quick pit work to rejoin the battle ahead of Bourdais.

Two quick cautions left the order unchanged, with Wilson running third ahead of Allmendinger and Bourdais. Allmendinger moved into third with a first-turn pass of Wilson on Lap 38, one lap before Nelson Philippe pitted out of the second spot. Philippe, who had previously joined Junqueira at the front after skipping a stop, suffered a failure upon leaving the pits as his left-rear wheel became dislodged.

Philippe was able to keep his machine off the racing line as he limped back to the pits, allowing starter J.D. Wilbur to keep his yellow flag in his pocket. However, Junqueira, Wilson and Oriol Servia decided to pit ahead of what they thought would be a yellow flag for the incident, promoting Bourdais back to the lead as Allmendinger and Alex Tagliani pitted one lap later.

Bourdais stretched his fuel load three laps longer than Allmendinger, which ended up setting the stage for the winning pass, as Allmendinger had as the extra laps to warm his tires, allowing both him and Junqueira to get around Bourdais as he left the pits. But the battle was halted temporarily when Legge had her big crash, necessitating a 42-minute red flag to retrieve the car and make track repairs. Legge was uninjured in the crash, walking out of the Champ Car Medical Center to the cheers of the waiting fans.

The race was restarted with two laps to go, with Allmendinger on point, followed by Junqueira and Bourdais. Allmendinger was equal to the task however, getting a good restart and keeping the Newman/Haas drivers at bay to score his fifth win of the year. Junqueira matched a season high with a second-place run while Bourdais rounded out the podium. Servia made the only pass of the final laps, besting Wilson for fourth, while Wilson’s fifth-place run kept him mathematically alive in the championship. Polesitter Clarke finished sixth, and more importantly moved to within seven points of Power in the Roshfrans Rookie-of-the-Year standings.